Growing up in Queens with parents of Jamaican descent Nicole McClure dreamed of one day playing with for the Caribbean island nation’s women’s national soccer team.
One thing she never imagined was playing in World Cup.
But McClure and her Reggae Girlz teammates are heading to France next year following its recent win over Panama in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament. Jamaica is one of three teams representing CONCACAF at the 2019 World Cup, along with the United States and Canada.
“To be honest I never thought it would happen,” she said of qualifying to play in a World cup. “I always wanted to play for Jamaica but never dreamed we would make it to the World Cup. But once we got started in the (CONCACAF) tournament it became more real and I had no doubt in my mind we would make it.”
Born in Jamaica, Queens, McClure played her youth soccer with the Auburndale Strikers from 1998 to 2003 and then the East Meadow Shooting Stars from 2003-2007. Currently, she plays professionally with Sundsvall in Sweden’s women’s soccer second division.
During the recent CONCACAF tournament held in North Carolina and Texas in early October, McClure would become a national hero in Jamaica and a cult hero to soccer fans elsewhere.
The third-place match between Jamaica and Panama, with the winning team receiving automatic World Cup qualification, would go to penalties tied 2-2. Through it all, McClure was on the bench cheering on her teammates. Prior to the start of the second 15 minute period of overtime, she was instructed by the coaching staff to warm up.
As the team’s prepared for penalty kicks, McClure was sent in to replace keeper Sydney Schneider. While unorthodox, the moved proved right as the former East Meadow youth soccer player saved two of the four Panamanian attempts to win the match 4-2 on penalties and secure Jamaica’s place in France.
“When I was running on the field I was really calm even though it was a tense moment,” she said during a phone interview with SleterFC.com from Sweden. “I think (the coaches) put me in because when we practiced penalties a couple of days before the match with Panama I did a better than Sydney.”
In the moments after the victory, McClure recalls a surreal feeling and then remembers being on the bottom of a dog pile.
“That’s when I thought, “I guess this is really happening,’” she recalled through a laugh. “There were a lot of emotions.”
As they celebrated their win on the field of Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX, the victory was felt some 1,700 miles away in Jamaica and back in New York. McClure noted that friends and family in the U.S. and Jamaica were contacting her and the team offering congratulations.
“I remember thinking this is really happening and people back home really care,” she said. “I hope our victory will shed some light on the sport and that the powers that be will invest in us. I’m also hoping there will be more money to grow girls soccer (in Jamaica) at the grassroots level.”
McClure’s Long Island Days
Now, as a keeper for a World Cup-bound team, McClure’s early days playing goalkeeper started in Auburndale. She remembers playing midfield during her first year with the team, but then shifting to keeper in her second year. Her play quickly caught the eye of East Meadow coaches who continued to speak with her parents about one day joining the Nassau County-based club. In 2003, she made the move east to East Meadow.
“The coach spoke with my parents over a period of four or five years,” she recalled. “It was hard for me to leave. I had all my friends there.”
Her time with the Shooting Stars was successful and included the team winning the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) Girls U-15 State Open Cup final in 2005. But one of her more memorable moments with the team came at the Disney Tournament.
Ironically, prior to a penalty shootout in that tournament, a parent from the opposition made a comment that his team would win since his daughter “always scored.” An East Meadow parent retorted that their keeper — McClure — saved penalty kicks. In the end, she saved one penalty kick that gave East Meadow the win.
While her days on Long Island will always be with her, McClure’s more immediate plans include finishing the current season in Sweden and then heading home to New York for a much-needed rest.
“I actually have planned a cruise to Florida,” she said. “I’ll be doing some hardcore resting and not touching a ball for the next month or two.”
Rest that is most certainly well-deserved.